BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- The president of Hockey Canada says two years without a medal at the IIHF World Hockey Championship is "totally unacceptable."
Bob Nicholson believes his organization needs to start looking for ways to avoid a similar fate next year and questioned the commitment of a couple young players that declined invitations here. Without naming names, he indicated that a small handful chose not to come to Europe for reasons that were a "little lame."
"It's a few key players," Nicholson said Friday. "This team was good enough to win, but with one or two more players (it could have been different). You know what, Hockey Canada and Canada have been pretty good to those players through the under-18, the juniors and an Olympics Games.
"I thought they would have thought about that before refusing to come this year."
Canada was knocked out of the tournament in the quarter-finals for the second straight year with a 2-1 loss to Russia on Thursday. As a result, the country's world ranking will drop to at least No. 3.
The roster building went to plan for general manager Dave Nonis until he started trying to fill out his final spots with players eliminated in the first round of the NHL playoffs. He spent countless hours burning up the phone lines as the tournament got underway in Kosice, Slovakia before settling on his final four -- James Neal, Jonathan Bernier, Carlo Colaiacovo and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
It was telling that the group included a little-used backup goalie (Bernier), a defenceman who'd been off for three weeks (Colaiacovo) and a veteran of 22 career NHL games (Gragnani).
Nicholson made it clear that his frustration was only with a few of the players who declined invitations, not the 24 men who gave up almost a month of their time to participate.
"I thought we had good enough talent to win," he said. "We didn't get the job done last night. For the players that came here, it means a lot to Hockey Canada and a lot to Canadians they come and represent their country."
Despite the disappointing finish, it was actually a pretty good tournament by the Canadian team.
The loss to Russia was the only one it suffered in seven games. The second-youngest team this country has sent to a world championship since 1977 outshot each of its opponents and rarely trailed at any point of the event.
"We just seemed to click right away," said coach Ken Hitchcock. "As soon as we landed, we clicked. That's what made me so happy is that anything we wanted them to do they were OK with, they bought into everything, the system we played it perfectly.
"We outchanced, outshot teams every night, we did unselfish things that winning teams do."
The tournament turned on a four-minute stretch in the third period against Russia when two costly Canadian errors turned a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit. The real backbreaker was a short-handed goal by Alexei Kaigorodov that came after a series of mistakes by players that were both sure bets to be here -- a pinch by defenceman Brent Burns and a bad read by Jason Spezza.
It was only fitting that moment came while Canada was in the midst of another futile power play. The team went 0-for-5 against the Russians and finished ninth in the tournament overall with a 16 per cent success ratio.
"I don't think we got the performance on the power play that we wanted," said Hitchcock.
After the final game, the coach singled out a few of his players: leading scorer John Tavares, who had nine points in seven games; young defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, who finished plus-9; Jeff Skinner, at 18 the youngest player in the tournament; defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who assumed a vocal leadership role; and Marc Methot, who made a name for himself with all-around solid play.
Hockey Canada is already starting to think about the 2014 Sochi Olympics and has started compiling information about players, coaches and management.
One potential way to ensure better participation at next year's world championship would be to name the selection staff for the Sochi Games a few years early and have them also preside over the tournament -- something that happened with Wayne Gretzky prior to Salt Lake City. However, Nicholson isn't necessarily keen on dangling the Olympic carrot so openly.
"It shouldn't be about Sochi," he said. "It's going to start to be about Sochi, but it should be about getting (your) career better in the National Hockey League. General managers that don't encourage young players to come -- you know what, general managers should be trying to convince their players that they should be playing in May and June."
There will be plenty of pressure on the team that represents Canada at the world championship in Stockholm and Helsinki next year. Canada appeared in six of seven finals between 2003 and 2009, but hasn't won a gold medal since the 2007 tournament in Moscow.
Bowing out in the quarter-finals two years in a row will also ratchet up the expectations.
"Unacceptable, totally unacceptable," said Nicholson. "Everyone has to find a way to try to be better."